JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Saturday over his alleged corruption and the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crowd rallied outside Netanyahu’s residence, blowing whistles, waving signs and flags and calling for his resignation. Smaller protests were held along bridges at major intersections in cities across Israel.

Israeli media estimated that about 10,000 people attended what has become a weekly demonstration in Jerusalem.

The protests built up over the summer as COVID-19 cases spiked. With a population of nine million, Israel has reported almost 150,000 infections cases and more than 1,000 deaths. The country is in a recession as a result of the pandemic and the unemployment rate is hovering above 20%.

A survey published in August by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 61% of Israelis did not trust Netanyahu to manage the coronavirus crisis.

Some critics of the prime minister say he is preoccupied with his corruption trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The 70-year-old was indicted in November in cases involving gifts from wealthy friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage. His trial opened in May and is set to resume in January.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing. He has described his trial as a leftist political witch-hunt aimed at unseating a popular right-wing leader.

He has also condemned the demonstrations against him, accusing protesters of trampling democracy.

A diplomatic breakthrough with the United Arab Emirates in August – followed by Bahrain on Friday – has largely been welcomed by Israelis but has been overshadowed by the economic fears stirred by the coronavirus crisis.

After a media backlash, Netanyahu scrapped plans to travel on an executive jet with his family to Washington on Sunday for a signing ceremony of the Israel-UAE accord, separately from an airliner chartered for the Israeli delegation.

Some media commentators criticised the travel plans as extravagant at a time when Israelis are heading into their second lockdown since March.

The prime minister’s aides said the plans to travel separately had been a health precaution. But Netanyahu’s office said on Friday he would travel with the rest of the delegation.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Pravin Char

source: reuters.com

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